This paper will examine Life Coaching techniques for individuals with the “Disease to Please” It will explore what a people pleaser looks like and reasons that they might show up in coaching. The research will provide insight into the common struggles and experiences of people pleasers and how this impacts their ability to be their most authentic selves in various areas of their lives. It will examine their internal struggle and provide suggestions for working with them in a coaching environment while being sensitive to their specific needs and difficulties. Finally, it will provide a power tool for use specifically with this population in helping them distinguish between cooperating with others versus engaging in their customary people pleasing patterns.
Life Coaching for “People Pleasers” – The Struggle for Authenticity
A “People Pleaser” is an individual who puts the needs of others before their own. Often times they are providing others with the love, care and respect they so desperately need and desire. These actions are often accompanied with the fear that should they not meet the needs of another, they will be rejected, abandoned or considered a selfish/bad person. They determine their worth or value by how useful they are to others and may find it difficult to validate themselves and prioritize their own needs.
A People Pleaser might be very successful in life according to the status quo, however suffers from an internal struggle, finding it difficult to be there most authentic self, not knowing whether their needs and desires are in fact their own or those of others they care about. Helping them navigate the world of pure compliance versus cooperation can be challenging for coaches, as People Pleasers often consider their actions as simply “being nice” or “selfless”. They may not be aware of the source of their constant anger, resentment or dissatisfaction and instead might believe they have bad luck for finding themselves engaged with “users” or selfish individuals.
This paper will explore why a People Pleaser might find themselves in a coaching practice and why coaching is often more appropriate than therapy for these individuals. It will also examine the common experiences, struggles and pitfalls of a people pleaser, giving attention to how they may have developed this pattern in their lives. Finally, it will give suggestions for power tools, techniques and exercises in coaching a people pleaser to bring them to a place where they can acknowledge the needs and wants of others while maintaining ownership of their feelings and maximizing their life choices.
Why Coaching? Why Now?
While People Pleasers may suffer from diagnosable disorders this is not a necessary characteristic. In fact by the nature of being a People Pleaser they often find themselves to be quite successful in their daily functioning, education and careers as their people pleasing pattern may have initiated with parent pleasing. (Leon F. Seltzer, 2008) Therefore, a People Pleaser might be an over achiever and appear to have it all together, while quietly suffering with feelings of being used and taken advantage of by the important people in their lives. While it is possible that this person might also suffer with depression, anxiety, explosive disorder, anger management issues or other mood disorders, a large majority are skilled at disguising and managing these symptoms quite well. They are often considered a part of the population referred to as the “worried well” and not optimal candidates for therapy . They are often functional members of society with careers, families and personal lives that might appear to be flourishing; however deep inside they are not thriving but simply surviving both emotionally and mentally.
With the ever changing system of Managed Care (specifically in the United States) it is becoming increasingly more difficult to qualify for mental health services if one does not suffer from what are considered to be serious mental illnesses like major depression, substance abuse or schizophrenia. With these new systems in place, individuals who struggle with feelings of low self esteem, poor self control, lack of commitment and general personal dissatisfaction are consistently ignored and considered to be complainers (Karen Shore, 2008). People Pleasers often fall into this category, because while they find themselves deeply frustrated and experience ongoing feelings of sadness, they are often able to maintain functionality with respect to the status quo. However when left unchecked these individuals can find themselves in abusive relationships and other compromising situations that can lead to undesirable outcomes like prison, suicide, unwanted pregnancies, substance abuse, violence, overeating and crime. So the need for working with this population is indeed great and it would be a disservice to simply ignore them as worriers or complainers. The question is: Is therapy or coaching the most appropriate method.
It is often said that People Pleasers struggle with attachment issues, specifically that they are anxiously attached based on experiences with their parent or primary caretaker (Harriet B Braiker, 2001). It is possible that this individual experienced conditional love throughout their childhood and became accustomed to putting the emotional and psychological needs of their parent before their own in order to avoid rejection, abuse or abandonment. They may have learned to be accommodating, compliant, invisible or become a caretaker themselves in order to maintain a feeling of safety and security within the home environment. Their parent may have been neglectful, abusive or suffered from a mental health disorder, making it difficult for them to provide the unconditional love and support needed to raise a healthy child (Harriet B Braiker, 2001). When this criterion is present a client might be more appropriate for therapy in that this can create a recipe for a harrowing childhood with possible experiences of abuse, abandonment and other forms of extreme trauma. When this is the case, the individual may need to be referred to a trained psychotherapist who can sift through these issues and heal old wounds.
However, many People Pleasers may come from seemingly “normal” homes where their parent or caretaker may have been highly critical or was caught up in their own emotional drama. In this case the client may not have experienced “trauma” but developed a pattern of pleasing their caretaker in order to help them feel better or avoid undesirable responses from them. The client may notice the pattern and be in need of guidance and support in speaking and living their truth rather than a trip down memory lane or they may have already worked through their childhood issues and are struggling with taking action in their current life situations. Coaching can provide the guidance and support needed to recognize their people pleasing patterns, recognize their impact on life choices, explore related fears and underlying beliefs/commitments and develop structures to help them feel comfortable with being their most authentic self.